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Gaza: civilians at risk as attacks continue

31-12-2008 News Release 08/250

Geneva/Jerusalem/Tel Aviv (ICRC) – The rising number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel raises concerns that fundamental rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) may not be fully adhered to, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned today.

   
  ©Reuters / I. Abu Mustafa    
 
Rafah, southern Gaza. A Palestinian woman sits on the rubble of her destroyed house.    
      

" We are concerned over the mounting number of civilians wounded or killed as a result of the hostilities, " said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation in Israel and the occupied territories. " IHL prohibits direct attacks against civilians as well as indiscriminate attacks. Parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and fighters and between civilian objects and military objectives. "

Whether launching an attack or positioning military personnel and material, all those involved in the hostilities must take every possible precaution to minimize the potential harm to civilians and civilian objects. IHL also requires that medical staff and facilities be protected from attack and that the sick and wounded be evacuated and treated, no matter who they are.

" We have raised these issues with the Israeli authorities and are continuing to do so, " added Pierre Wettach. " We have also drawn their attention to the importance of ensuring full respect for the principle of proportionality. In our contacts with Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip, we have repeatedly pointed out their responsibilities under international humanitarian law. " The ICRC is also concerned about the civilian deaths and injuries in Israel resulting from repeated rocket attacks launched from inside the Gaza Strip.

  For further information, please contact
  Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18
  Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 2 582 88 45 or +972 52 601 91 50
  Iyad Nasr, ICRC Gaza, tel: +972 59 960 30 15 (Arabic)
  Yael Segev-Eytan, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel: +972 3 524 52 86 or +972 52 275 75 17 (Hebrew)
  Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 5917900 or +972 52 601 91 48 (Arabic)
 

 Notes for editors  

 Relevant rules of International Humanitarian Law:  

 Distinction between Civilians and Combatants : " The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians. " Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume I, Rule 1, Page 3, Cambridge University Press, 2005 .

 Distinction between civilian objects and military objectives:  " The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives. Attacks may only be directed against military objectives. Attacks must not be directed against civilian objects. " Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume I, Rule 7, Page 25, Cambridge University Press, 2005 .

 Proportionality : " Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited. " Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume I, Rule 14, Page 46, Cambridge University Press, 2005 .

List of customary rules of international humanitarian law